Tennessee Titans need offensive linemen. The NFL Draft

Tennessee Titans need offensive linemen. The NFL Draft

INDIANAPOLIS − One is the grandson of an NFL legend. One is a hockey player turned gymnast turned wrestler turned safety turned quarterback turned church dancer turned lineman. One has the “sweet feet.”

All could be upgrades over what the Tennessee Titans were working with in 2022.

The Titans are expected to use the No. 11 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft to replenish their beleaguered offensive line, which was among the league’s worst last season in both pass protection and opening holes for running backs. Nine years after picking recently released tackle Taylor Lewan at No. 11, the Titans have a chance to replace him with any number of top tackle prospects, namely Northwestern’s Peter Skornoski, Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr. and Georgia’s Broderick Jones.

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Skoronski, Johnson and Jones all seem destined to be first-round picks, but the order which they will come off the board will be debated until draft night. Skoronski’s skeptics point to his short arms and wonder whether he projects better as a guard, while Johnson and Jones both have to silence the doubt that stems from only playing one year of college left tackle and both playing on super-talented offenses with pros everywhere that insulated them from tougher matchups.

Skoronski, who only allowed one sack in 474 pass plays last season, addressed his critics head on.

“A lot of people who don’t really understand the position that well think ‘Oh you’re a tackle. There are longer D-ends out there so you need longer arms,’” Skoronski said. “As my trainer Duke Mayweather says, no one seems to have an answer for the long-armed guys who can’t block anybody.”

Vince Lombardi and ‘unmatched’ athleticism

The grandson of a five-time NFL champion who played for Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers, Skoronski grew up striving to match the “family legend” of playing in the NFL. He’s proud of his footwork and he’s working on his hand placement to counteract some of the issues related to having shorter arms, but he doesn’t think his body type is a limitation.

By that same standard, Johnson doesn’t think of his relative inexperience as a weakness either. Johnson played right guard for Ohio State in 2021, waiting behind current Titans right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere before being able to bump outside. He didn’t give up any sacks as a guard in 2021 and only allowed two in 449 dropbacks as a tackle in 2022. With that tape, he feels teams understand his strengths.

“I would say my athleticism is unmatched in the country,” Johnson said. “My ability to move my feet and my ability to be able to cover my opponent. I’ve never played basketball because I can’t dribble, but my feet cover anybody. That’s just how I feel. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in church with a lot of dancing, but I have good feet. And I feel like the violence I play with too. In space, that’s crucial.”

Like Johnson, Jones waited his turn at a football factory before getting to protect quarterback Stetson Bennett’s blind side. He barely played in 2020 and only started four games in 2021 before emerging in 2022, surrendering zero sacks and just two quarterback hits in a 15-game season.

Jones says he has “sweet feet,” a product of his childhood love of basketball. He’s not particularly interested in comparing his strengths to those of the other offensive linemen in the draft class. Rather, he and his sweet feet are always competing against themself.

“The best version of me is just showing how athletic I am,” Jones said. “Being physical. Just trying to dominate my opponents. I feel like I’m closing in on it. I still feel like my best football is ahead of me. But I feel like I’m pretty close.”

Why Titans need offensive linemen

Per Pro Football Focus, the Titans graded as the NFL’s worst pass blocking team in 2022. They allowed the NFL’s fifth-most sacks per pass attempt, allowed the most quarterback pressures per pass play of any team in the league and paved way for the fourth-fewest rushing yards before contact per carry.

Snagging Skoronski, Jones or Johnson would be an upgrade wherever they play, and it’s possible that all three will still be on the board when the Titans pick at No. 11.

Offensive line isn’t the Titans’ only weakness, but as the team’s most pressing shortcoming in 2022, the surplus of available first-round tackles has to be a huge plus for general manager Ran Carthon when evaluating the draft class.

Nick Suss is the Titans beat writer for The Tennessean. Contact Nick at nsuss@gannett.com. Follow Nick on Twitter @nicksuss.